Consuming Comics – Geek 501

After checking out a whole bunch of comics and graphic novels from our local library it got me thinking of all the forms that comics take. There is the comic strip in the newspaper that so many of us grew up reading. Now we have online web comics that for many of us have probably replaced reading any newspaper comics. Then there are the serial comics that come out monthly with longer stories that can happen over years. These are the typical superhero comics, such as Batman and X-Men. They might be released on a regular schedule, but then the stories will get compiled into a trade paperback. On top of that there are graphic novels that are single releases of a story. Often times they are fictional, but they have also been used for memoir or other non-fictional stories. This has even gone so far as to be used to help explain concepts such as copyright and media consumption.

Using drawings to help tell a story means that the visuals of the story can be shown through the pictures instead of explained and interpreted. The interesting thing is that even though all the elements are the same there seems to be a class difference between the various comic types. Graphic novels definitely seemed to be treated as a higher form than the regular weekly / daily comics. Even though there is an art to being able to get out so much content every week.

Daily / Weekly Comics

As mentioned above these are the comics that you find in the newspaper and many web comics. Sometimes they will have overarching stories that are being told, but for the most part it is often either a slice of life or a short story told in a very limited number of panels. Even when a longer story is being told each comic has to hold enough of a story in itself to be interesting usually.

Part of what is great about the web comic is that it is easier to tell a longer story than in the more traditional newspaper comic format because it is easy for people to go back to the beginning of the story. With a newspaper they absolutely had to make sure that even if someone had not read the newspaper the day before they could still get something out of the comic in that days paper. The new online version has opened up a whole new world of options, and goes beyond the typical daily comic.

Serial Comic

One of the things that I have actually seen recently is using web comics as a way to do a page by page release of a traditional serial comic. The serial comic is usually released on a monthly basis and even though it is an ever continuing story they are often broken down into larger stories being told that then get combined together into trade paperbacks.

With Buffy the Vampire Slayer the comics have been released in “seasons” similar to the tv show. So season 8 ended up a series of trade paperback that told a larger story similar to what you would see in a television season. It is amazing how serial comics can be about the same characters in the same world, but often switch up the author and artists to continue the story of the character. To be able to pick up where someone else might have left off is pretty incredible. Yet, these are often looked down upon as childish or not a higher form.

Graphic Novel

At the same time the graphic novel seems to be given an elevated status in some ways. These are usually one shot stories that are either told in a single or over multiple books. One of the recent graphic novels that I have read is Amulet, which is specifically made for young adults. It is a story that anyone can relate to though. This is a limited story and released specifically all together. This tends to be how these sorts of stories are released. It is not limited to a unique story because sometimes serial comic characters will be released in one shot graphic novels because that is the better way to tell the story, for example, The Killing Joke. It is trying to tell a bigger story that needs a longer form then the serial comic can provide.


The interesting thing that can be found is even though some do not respect the comic form there seems to be a growing number of non-fiction graphic novels. I am currently reading Persepolis, which is a heart wrenching story and putting into a graphic novel she is able to show how a child might see the world. The other non-fiction graphic I have read recently, The Influencing Machine, discussed the role and influence of the media. It went through the history of media’s influence and how it affects the world around us. The use of visuals made it easy to read and understand what the author was trying to tell us. By making the information visual it changes how we interact with it and can tie the ideas to something we are already familiar with.

I personally read all types of comics, but do find it interesting all the different ways we create and consume visual illustration stories. How about you?

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